Freeh: Holder "used" by Clinton in Rich pardon

While he largely praised Attorney General-designate Eric Holder, Former FBI Director Louis Freeh also criticized his conduct during the pardon process.

Published January 16, 2009 9:10PM (EST)

Attorney General-designate Eric Holder's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee continued into their second day Friday. The star witness in the latest session was  former FBI Director Louis Freeh, who urged the committee to confirm Holder. Freeh's praise for the nominee came with a caveat, however, as he had some harsh words about Holder's role in the pardon of Marc Rich.

Freeh said Holder had made "terrible mistakes" and allowed himself "to be used" by then-President Bill Clinton in the pardoning of the fugitive financier. Freeh called the pardon a "corrupt act" but added that Holder did not bear chief responsibility for the decision.

"The [Clinton] White House went to extraordinary lengths to deceive the attorney general, myself, the Department of Justice and everyone about who was on the secret pardon list," Freeh told the committee. "I don't think it's fair to put that blame totally on Eric Holder... He takes responsibility, and he will never make that mistake again."

Though his statements on the Rich affair might suggest otherwise, Freeh insisted that Holder has shown "political independence" and a willingness to stand up to the White House over his career -- two characteristics that former Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales often lacked.

Frances Fragos Townsend, formerly President George W. Bush's homeland security advisor, also spoke in favor of Holder, saying, "I know Eric to be an honest decent man of the highest ethical standards."

As Alex wrote in an earlier post, Holder is perhaps the most controversial of Obama's cabinet nominees. Republicans, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, subjected Holder to a fairly harsh hearing on Thursday. The Judiciary Committee will vote on Holder on January 21st.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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